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Mediation as Leadership in the Eye of the Storm

This morning’s guest blog — Eye of the Storm Leadership:  Mediation as Leadership and Leadership as Mediation — is by Peter Adler, PhD, President of The Keystone Center and author of Eye-of-the-Storm leadership: 150 Ideas, Stories, Quotes, and Exercises on the Art and Politics of Managing Human Conflicts.

Not long ago, Bob Benjamin and I offered a session at the ABA meeting in Seattle called “Beyond Orthodoxy: The Adaptive Mediator in a Perpetually Changing Marketplace of Clients, Needs, and Ideas.” The session, surprisingly packed to the gills, focused on new and alternative frameworks for mediation.

We began with three assumptions.

First, we posited that mediators have become much too self-absorbed with rules, laws, titles, professional issues, and organizational matters.

Second, we noted that there is insufficient attention being paid to ongoing core negotiation issues and intervention dilemmas, as well as to the tensions surrounding competition, cooperation, and the deep human needs that attend conflict resolution.

Third, we stressed that it is time to take mediation to the next level in our popular and political cultures.

At the end of the session, one very thoughtful gentleman came up to me and said: “I like what you guys are saying but I really need to make a living. Much as I want to move our work to the next level, I have to focus on professionalization issues.”

But are the two incompatible? Not at all!

Certainly mediators need to be concerned about fees, markets, specialties, certifications, associations, and affiliations. But there is a more important challenge, one that, if we meet it capably, will help advance our professional goals and simultaneously take our work to its zenith.

Quite simply, we must make our core mediation values part and parcel of the way leaders in the public and private sectors lead.  The creation of a widespread cultural mediation “pull” would necessarily both overtake and serve as the engine of our much narrower efforts at “pushing” settlement, resolution, and agreement in legal markets.

Mediators like to talk about “the field” or “the profession.”  But let’s remember that our work is, at core, a passion. It is a shared calling that links us to millions of people worldwide who do not have the word “mediator” engraved on their business cards.

Most of people with whom we are so aligned have never been formally trained and don’t know what we are talking about when we slip into technical mediator-babble. Nonetheless they share the same passionate impulses and intellectual creativity as we do when they talk about the power of beneficial negotiation processes, the inclusion of diverse voices in our communities, and the ability of ordinary people to forge wise, effective, and tractable solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

In my work at The Keystone Center, I see these people all the time. Many of them are at the table grappling with the energy, environment, and public health cases and consensus building projects we work on. They come to assert their positions on reformulating food products, realigning the I-70 highway, or stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions and are stunned by their own progress. They open lines of genuinely new communication, form improbable alliances, and craft smart deals.

Tough as nails as negotiators, they also see the enormous value of collaborative problem solving. These same people are in positions to change our political and popular cultures. They hold influential positions in their companies, government agencies, and NGOs. They sit on library boards, church councils, and education commissions. They volunteer time to the PTA and sit on the boards of the local United Way. Some of them occupy elected or appointed to public offices. Others coach basketball teams, lead Rotary Clubs, or run neighborhood farmers’ markets.  .

We need to connect with these people, learn from them, pass our knowledge and experience to them, and help foster a new generation who can make the obvious links between the mediation skills we have learned and the native leadership work they are doing.

If we do that well, our political culture will flourish in new ways and business will boom.


Peter S. Adler, Ph.D. is President of The Keystone Center, which applies consensus-building and cutting-edge scientific information to energy, environmental, and health-related policy problems. The Keystone Center also offers extensive training and professional education programs to educators and business leaders and runs the Keystone Science School in the Rocky Mountains.

Adler’s specialty is multi-party negotiation and problem solving. He has worked extensively on water management and resource planning problems and mediates, writes, trains, and teaches in diverse areas of conflict management. He has worked on cases ranging from the siting of a 25-megawatt geothermal energy production facility to the resolution of construction and product liability claims involving a multi-million dollar stadium. He has extensive experience in land planning issues, water problems, marine and coastal affairs, and strategic resource management.

Adler has written extensively in the field of mediation and conflict resolution. He is the co-author of Managing Scientific & Technical Information in Environmental Cases (1999); Building Trust: 20 Things You Can Do to Help Environmental Stakeholder Groups Talk More Effectively About Science, Culture, Professional Knowledge, and Community Wisdom (National Policy Consensus Center, 2002); the author of Beyond Paradise and Oxtail Soup (Ox Bow Press, 1993 and 2000) and numerous other articles and monographs


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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